/  January 13, 2017

A CoMotion Student Ideathon for the Physical Future of UW

Sally Clark stood in front of the CoMotion MakerSpace in Fluke Hall and asked her audience for a show of hands. “How many of you know of the Rainier Vista?” Many hands shot up. “Drumheller Fountain?” More hands. “How many of you have been to the Quad? Red Square?” Almost all the hands now. “Okay,” Clark said. “Now, how many of you know about West Campus?” The hands started to wilt. Not many had heard of the part of UW that goes from roughly west of 15th Avenue to the I-5 bridge, from 41st Street down to Portage Bay.

Clark, the UW Director of Regional and Community Relations, explained that the reason we all know about UW’s most iconic tableaus—what she called “the postcard areas”— is that people had sat down together decades ago and planned them: they decided what they wanted a major research institution to look like. Now, with the 2018 Campus Master Plan currently being devised, people are sitting down again to ask, What is the physical future of UW? What do we want a modern university to look like? “That is you, now, for West Campus,” Clark said. “You’re going to have an opportunity to help answer those questions.”

Clark was speaking to forty-eight undergraduates, all of whom had signed up to participate in the Ideathon, a joint venture between CoMotion and C21: The Center for 21st Century Liberal Learning. An Ideathon is an intensive, workshop-like experience for students from all disciplines to come together and address some of the most pressing challenges both locally and globally. As Vikram Jandhyala, the Executive Director for CoMotion and Vice President for Innovation Strategy at UW, put it, “It’s like a hackathon, but without the hacking.”

For this second Ideathon, the students were given the following challenge: How can we make innovation more inclusive in UW’s future West Campus—with innovation playing a role in the experience of all students?” Innovation, Jandhyala said, should be for more than just computer science or engineering majors, and in this, the Ideathon students were ideally suited to the task. They had come almost entirely from the College of Arts & Sciences, but from a wide range of fields: there were economics majors, French majors, psych majors, biochem majors, among many others. “You are the ones who can push the definition of what innovation means,” Jandhyala told them.

The students divided themselves into eight teams, and plunged into the work. For the next thirty-six hours, they brainstormed, stitched together ideas, and focused heavily on how “story” plays a crucial role in both understanding change and impacting change. In the little time left between all those activities, they ate and slept.

By Sunday, they were ready to show what they had learned. Gathering at the new CoMotion HQ on Roosevelt Way NE, they presented their insights, stories and proposals to their peers and a panel of judges. Their ideas for how to make West Campus more innovation-friendly ran the gamut. One group had interviewed more than twenty students and learned of a sense of “academic insecurity” anyone can feel at times. From this, they proposed HEARTCOM, a student-run organization that would facilitate inside-out innovation by helping students work with area entrepreneurs to create deliverables, further building skills and strengthening community relationships.

Another group came up with an idea for a "Student Innovation Center" where students could go to build collaborative interdisciplinary teams to tackle global challenges. Another group proposed "The Bridge," a center that would join the U-District community and UW students together to solve social problems such as homelessness on the Ave.

"This was an intense weekend, a fun weekend, and you all told good stories about the future of UW," said Kevin Mihata, Associate Dean for Educational Programs with the College of Arts and Sciences. "I want to end the Ideathon with a challenge. Now, it's up to you to take the story and apply it to yourself. Find the people who can help you, and who you can help."